Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Pen & Muse Review: Delora's Necklace

Delora's Necklace by Susan Blexrud
Author Website:n/a
Publisher: DCL
Genre: Romance/Time Travel
Price: $3.50

Imagine finding yourself time traveling to the Ancient Mayan civilization. Only to find out that you had a life there with someone? Well this is what happens to Delora. Delora meets Ashwan, a Mayan warrior and did I mention her husband?! Thinking this is all a joke, Delora plays along only to find out later there are things that she literally left behind. Will Delora stay in this old world with a man claiming to be her husband or will she crave that of the world she was accustomed to?

Susan is a great storyteller. I can tell that she took her time with this story and did her homework. While reading this I got a sense of the time and the Mayan world. Delora's Necklace will surely please anyone who enjoys romance and those who believe that love is a power that can cross even time itself.


Delora's ancient Mayan necklace has a mind of its own. Drawn by a primordial force she can't deny, Delora books a weekend jaunt to the Yucatan Peninsula to reconnect with her Hispanic roots. She gets more than she bargained for when she's catapulted back in time 900 years to a husband she didn't know she had and a culture intent on sacrificing her to the gods.


“I am Ashwan, grandson of Ahalo, the astronomer, and son of Halach Uinic, supreme ruler of all lands and cities under his power. I am an astronomer like my grandfather, who taught me patience to observe the heavenly bodies as they move across the sky. I strive to discover the secret of the changing seasons and how our crops grow with the harmony of the universe.”

“Many years ago, you were the granddaughter of Oconte, a nobleman scribe, and daughter of Oconte the second, who is my father’s scribe. The necklace you wear was given to you by Oconte’s wife, your grandmother, on the day we met.”

At that point, a roar from the stadium below turned their attention to a perfect view of a sporting match that seemed to be coming to an end.

“Ah, the pok ta pok game is ending,” Ashwan said. “It has been going on for several days, but it seems that the red team has scored the one goal needed to win. I think you may not want to watch what happens next. Though you were always fond of watching the games, you never enjoyed the final act.”

“Are you kidding?” Delora bristled. “I haven’t missed a football game in Miami for the last four years, and some of the best plays went right down to the wire.”

“And how many players from the losing team do they behead?” Ashwan asked.

“Did you say…behead?”

Delora watched, riveted, as the teams assembled in two lines facing each other, seven players on each side. She took in the sloping walls that bounded the playing field. The walls were carved with reliefs of games and spectators.

“See the ball?” Ashwan asked. “It bounces off the targets on the walls to mimic the movement of the stars in the sky. The opposing teams symbolize the struggle between the gods of the underworld and those of the sky. That is why a sacrifice must occur, to ensure the earth’s fertility.”

“Now you’re scaring me,” Delora said, as she watched one player from the green team being led to a platform at the far end of the stadium. Then, a large man with a gold breastplate and an elaborate headdress ascended the steps at the back of the platform.

“That is the priest and executioner,” said Ashwan. “Sometimes, prisoners of war are executed at the end of the game instead of ball players, but today, there are no prisoners.”

Delora couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. As the athlete kneeled on the platform, the priest raised his sword and with one swift blow, the head was severed from his body. The head rolled a few feet before settling, and the athlete’s body collapsed on the platform.

Delora let out a high-pitched scream. Ashwan grabbed her and covered her mouth with his hand.

She swatted his hand away. “Let go of me! I don’t rattle easily, but I want to know what’s going on!” Anger welled up in her as she struggled to squirm loose from his grip.

Ashwan took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “You have witnessed a common ritual in our culture,” he said. “I am sure your life is very different now in your Mi-a-mi, but your life used to be here. Give it time, and you will remember.”

“What if I don’t want to remember? What if I just want to go home?” Her usual ability to remain calm under pressure was beginning to fail her.

“Come with me, and I will tell you the whole story.” Ashwan extended his hand to help Delora up.

“Not so fast,” she retorted. Looking up at this devastating stranger, who stood a head taller than she, Delora calculated her ability to outrun him.

“Then listen to me here and now. Many, many years ago, when you were fifteen years old and I was twenty, you and I loved each other…deeply. Our families were estranged because our grandfathers had quarreled over a discrepancy in astrological calculations. I do not think anyone remembers why the feud continued, but it did. Your parents and mine knew of each other but had never met, so when you and I met by accident at the cenote closest to our city, we did not know each other. It was only later that your father became my father’s scribe.”

“Back up a minute,” Delora said. “What’s a cenote?”

“You must remember the cenotes. They are immense caverns with deep, cool water. Some are completely underground and some are open to the sky. The cenote where we met is called Cenote Dzitnup, and it is sacred to our city. Without it, our people would die and the jaguar and monkey would leave our jungle. It has no bottom, so when we offer a sacrifice to the cenote, it lands in the lap of a god.”

“Would any of those sacrifices be human?” Delora asked, shuddering.

“Yes, sometimes virgins are sacrificed to the gods. I could not let that happen to you, which is why we married so quickly.”

“We’re married?” Delora had to laugh. “Please, give me a break. Don’t you think I’d remember that?”

“Do you not recall, my love? We spent our wedding night under a canopy of stars much like this evening,” Ashwan said, turning his gaze to the heavens. “Our lovemaking ignited a passion that could not be quenched.”

“Well, don’t expect an instant replay. And please, knock off the ‘my love’ business.” Like this guy would be interested in her. Come on. It was all just too weird.

“I should call you what I called you when we were together, then. You were my ‘Little Fearless,’ like your name, because you were not frightened to take chances.”

“I’m certainly a risk taker, but I don’t plan on staying here long enough for you to get used to calling me anything.”

“How can I convince you that what I say is true?”

“Well…Ashwan, is it? Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that I spend a couple of days here. Don’t you think my parents and boyfriend will miss me?”

“We should consult with Valuso. He is an old and wise scribe. You were very fond of him in your life here. He has also been anticipating your return, and he will know how this happened. Come. Please. It will be dark soon, and the steps will be difficult to see.”

At this point, Delora felt she needed to find some sane people to rescue her or make a break for her car.

“All right, let’s go see this Valuso,” Delora said, thinking she’d play this game until she saw a chance to escape. She tentatively tested her legs. They were still a bit wobbly, but she could make it down. Unlike her ascent on the deteriorating steps, the steps she descended were solid. Just like new.

As they made their way down the steps, Delora noticed people who looked like peasants or slaves working to light torches as twilight dimmed the skies. She strained to see anyone dressed like a tourist, or perhaps a policeman, but she saw no one who looked like they lived in modern times. She tried to get her bearings regarding the location of her car. She looked in the direction she believed her car was located, but in the place of the parking lot and booths of souvenir vendors stood a large red palace.

The pyramid wall they were descending was in deep shadow, so they were hidden, but as they reached the halfway point, Ashwan stopped on the steps and held his arm in front of Delora.

“You must not be seen. The people who knew you will think you are a ghost, but in very strange clothes. Only your hair looks as it should.”

Delora’s straight brown hair was pulled back in a long braid that ended between her shoulder blades. Her necklace bounced against a green and orange University of Miami t-shirt, and her khaki cargo shorts ended about mid-thigh. She wore hiking boots, with the hint of orange socks peeping out the top, and she carried a dark green University of Miami backpack with the Ibis mascot stamped on the front pocket.

“What, they don’t recognize a co-ed when they see one?” Delora asked.

She didn’t know why she was following this guy, but she felt he meant her no harm. He’d already had abundant opportunities to bop her over the head or drag her into a corner. If he tried anything, she’d be better off in the village where she could make a run for it.

Suddenly, it dawned on Delora. This whole thing was a new reality TV show, and she was being considered as a contestant. That beheading wasn’t real; they’d created an elaborate set. She slapped herself on the thigh and steeled her resolve. It made sense. She was athletic and daring. She could compete. Damn straight! She’d be the best darn contestant EVER.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Save the Twilight Forum!

Twilight fans, please help out this great forum for all
Twilight fans alike. Proboards is wanting to close
this great board and forum because of member inactivity.
Help, by clicking on the banner above and see for yourself.
Be sure to spread the word!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Pen Review: January Eternal Press Edition

Welcome to The Pen Review Eternal Press Edition! As you all know I a big fan of stories and authors that come out of Eternal Press. So this whole post is dedicated to Eternal Press and all of it's authors!

Carina and the Nobleman by Jannine Petska
Genre: Medievil Romance
Author Page: n/a
Price: $6.95

This story touched me. I absolutely loved it. I loved Carina's strength, endurance, and faith to continue with her mission to find her family. She was a very funny character as well as she dealt with her duties to Count Luciano about adding to her time that she would have to serve him. From start to finish it was a story that I did not want to end. Now I am wondering if there is more to come from this story. I would love to read more if there is! Those who love fairy tale romances must read Carina and the Nobleman!


Forced to the streets after her mother dies, Carina Gallo is desperate to survive and find her long lost sisters. Consumed with locating his missing brother, Count Luciano has forsaken his needs. When he catches beautiful and vulnerable Carina stealing from him, he takes pity and cares for her until she's strong enough to work off her crime. Carina is forever grateful to Luciano, yet fears he will learn of her wicked secret and condemn her to burn. Will Luciano and Carina find a way to feed the mutual passions they share, or will heresy and obsession with lost family destroy them both?


Carina sighed inwardly, truly amazed by the beautiful sight of her first lover. Count Ruggero’s long, well-proportioned legs reminded her of sturdy pillars. Her gaze drifted over the healing wound on his forearm then shifted to the blaze of desire turning his eyes dark gold. A thrill shivered through her body…until their monumental differences returned to afflict her conscience.

“You know not what you are doing, my lord.”

“No, angel. I know exactly what I am about to do.”

“But you and I cannot. You are a count. I am merely a peasant.”

He propped his hands on his hips. “Think you it matters to me?”

“It should, my lord. I am not worthy of your attention, amorous or otherwise.”

He showered her with a promising smile and stepped forward to help her remove her chemise.

“When you and I are wearing naught, tell me of our differences, save for the obvious.”

All she could do was tremble under his heated gaze.

Donnie Dare for Justice by Dee Kirk
Genre: Erotic Humor
Author Page:n/a

Donnie is a super heroine of her own and she will do it her way to help an old friend. After all having friends in the adult industry has it's perks! A fun and hot read! You cannot miss Donnie Dare for Justice!


When sultry Donnie Dare discovers an old friend has been ruined by unscrupulous lawyers, she feels compelled to act. With the aid of a seedy private detective and some old friends from the adult film world, Donnie's quest for justice leads her on a hilarious romp through the bedrooms of the rich and powerful.


Orgasm, whether self-induced or shared with others, is my life elixir, my magic fountain of happiness and well-being. There’s no better preventive medicine than an active and satisfying sex life and the big O will cure almost anything that ails you. I believe this as strongly as some folks believe in virgin birth. And I’ve got more proof than they have.

Lot 62, An Esther May Mystery by Arthur Everest
Genre: Paranormal/Mystery
Pages: 33
Author Page:n/a
Price: 3.50

Although this story has many others to accompany it as it is a series, it's can be read as a stand alone. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this mystery. Julie's character is both intriguing and exciting. Those who love mysteries along with some paranormal will enjoy Arthur Everest's Lot 62. A mysterious delight !


Julie Blalock is approaching thirty and has an unfulfilling job with an accountancy firm. But she also has a secret—she was once an MI6 Agent. A personal tragedy forced her to quit eight years ago, but a chance offer to return for a one-time op is tootempting to ignore. Her mission: to pose as a rich socialite at Sotheby's, to gain critical intelligence during the most anticipated high-class auction of the year—Esther May Morrow's sale of antique treasures, featuring Lot 62, a prize that has even the Ministry of Defence worried. What secrets will Julie discover on her impromptu return to espionage?


"Anything else I should know?”

Northam replied,“Entwistle’s got a few final details. Just a sec.”

Maggie expertly applied cherry lipstick and a smidgeon of smoky eye-shadow. Next, elbow-length black gloves matched the dress and fit comfortably. Rich suede high heels—black, from Audley’s in London—also fit first time. Julie suddenly remembered the Service still had all her sizes from eight years ago. It made her realise how little she missed her privacy; a few days back, if someone in accounting had handed her a profile of her vital statistics, she’d have filed for breach of confidentiality. Now, even though they had her butt under close scrutiny and her breasts spilling out for all the world to see, Julie simply nodded. She had her second skin. And it was tough. The Service had given her that.

Feels like Old Times by Brady Sutton
Genre: Erotica/Romance
Pages: 25
Author Page:n/a
Price: 2.50

Although Harry Bates is missing the one he longed and loved, he will find a person to fill his heart and nights. A story that proves love can always be found.


Feeling old. Lamenting your missing libido. But oh-so-much-more: missing the only woman you ever loved.

This is Christmas for Harry Bates. Until he meets Carla Long, a widow who refuses to hide her lust for life and love-and Harry Bates.

When Carla declares her desires, Harry realizes he wants this every way. But one question makes him hesitate: What would his late wife, Maria, say?


Sometimes he hated his wife for dying on him. But always he missed her. He often recalled sitting across the room, admiring as he stared at her. She would look up, blush, and wave him away. But he knew she'd loved it. Her laughter had been like chimes in a breeze. She had smelled like fresh air and tasted like dessert. In public she'd been modest and proper, but in private...God, he missed her.

She'd had a special way of letting him know she wanted him. "Please give it to me, Harry," she'd murmur against his ear. Every time, her soft breath had aroused him, made his mouth water and his body hunger for hers.

French Tickler by Sloane Taylor
Genre: Contemporary/Romance
Pages: 25
Author Page:n/a
Price: 3.95

What's a girl to do when she finds a man to love and the parents start meddling?! Well that's what happens to Samantha Bradley who finds the man she wants in Cisco Bernier. When old secrets start to flame for both of the lovers, they both start to question if their love is worth it. A delightful read filled with excitement, love, lust, and humor.


Lingerie designer Samantha Bradley is on the brink of major success. While having the time of her life in Nice she meets sexy Cisco Bernier, a man who turns her heart inside out and makes her body sizzle.

Despite being France's key criminal prosecutor, Cisco's success in relationships has been less than zero. When he meets Sam, his staid world goes up in flames.

But their happiness is short lived when his underhanded mother and her mob-connected father resurface to threaten their future. Can Samantha and Cisco find a way to make their passion for one another burn fiercer than the scorn of their meddling parents? Find out in this sexy new addition to the Naughty Ladies of Nice.


Samantha grinned, watching his eyes scale up her body. She couldn't help but comment as she stared him in the eye. "In case you're wondering, I'm five foot eleven and one inch." Some kind of gurgle came out of his throat, and she did her best not to burst out laughing. Men are so stupid.

She accepted her gnarled silk blouse that he had scrunched under his Italian leather shoes, then shrugged it on, all the while trying to come up with a way for him to invite her to dinner.

He'd been on the beach the last two days, always dressed in a different well-tailored suit and looking stiff as a judge. Didn't matter. He turned her on like no other man ever had. And there had been quite a few in her young life.

Okay, Sammy girl, time to go for the gold.

"Monsieur, will you please recommend a good restaurant in the city?"

After a few gulps, he coughed and managed to regain control. "Mais oui, but there are a great many. Do you wish our famous seafood?" He frowned for a moment. She had the insane desire to wipe away the tiny lines over his brow. "Or a different cuisine?"

"Seafood sounds wonderful." She turned on her best smile. Food and men, always a winning combination. "Outdoor dining would be perfect."

"Mademoiselle, our evenings are cold at night this time of year." His eyes did another sortie to her pebbled breasts. "There are one or two with good food that supply heaters."

"You're terrific and just what I want." His black eyes smoldered. She feared her bikini would wash down her thighs from all the moisture dripping into it. "Which one is the best, and where is it?"

"Perhaps it would be more prudent if I showed you?" He wrapped his manicured fingers around her elbow.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The King's Daughter by Miriam Newman Book Trailer

The King's Daughter by Miriam Newman, 8th place finisher in the recent Preditors & Editors poll for Romance Novel of 2008, now has a book trailer!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Join Kristin Battestella, The Author of Vampire Family for a Chat!

Join Kristin Battestella and her 2008 Eternal Press release The Vampire Family for our first live chat of 2009! We're coming this month in paperback, so its a great time to catch up with us!

First, stop by Monday March 9 at Night Owl Romance. Can't make it? Never fear! We're chatting again the following Monday March 16 with Fallen Angel Reviews!

I've been interviewed by both houses, so its nice to sit down for a real time conversation with all my Vampire Family friends!

For more information on The Vampire Family in ebook or paperback, visit our blog at or stop by our Eternal Press page for ordering information

For a complete list of times and guest appearances, visit the Kristin Battestella Yahoo Group

Kristin looks forward to chatting with you!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Brenda Novak's Diabetes Research Auction

Each year, I run an amazing online auction for diabetes research at my Web site ( There, you can find amazing opportunities for published and unpublished authors (among a lot of other things). More than fifty agents and just as many editors participate by offering evaluations (some with an amazing 24-hours response!), meet-and-greets and even line edits. All the major houses are represented. We also have NYTimes Bestselling Authors offering critiques and mentoring sessions. We have writing classes and how-to books and complete edits by professional editors. And for published authors we have publicity packages and networking opportunities galore. I would've killed for something like this when I was an unpublished author searching for a way to break in! Even better, the proceeds go to fight diabetes, helping those, like my youngest son, who are trying to cope with this terrible disease, which is the 5th deadliest killer.

Here are the details:
When: May 1 - May 31st
Never shopped at an online auction? Don't be intimidated. It runs just like E-Bay! Over 1,000 items are already up for preview. Check it out at and register for the auction today. The first 500 registrants will receive a copy of TRUST ME, my first NYTimes Bestseller.

Thanks for any help you can give me in spreading the word.
Here's to making a difference,

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Pen & Muse Romantic Short Story Contest Winner, Kerri Nelson!

Check out our Grand Prize Winner, Kerri Nelson.
She won the grand prize for the Short Story contest in
the published author category!
Contest Entry: The Saucy Celt
Check out her interview, excerpt, and be sure to watch out for her.
She will be up and coming, I'm sure of it!

Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!

I'm from the sunny south right smack dab in the middle of the Heart of Dixie. I'm an Alabama native but I've lived all over the world, including Japan! I was born an raised a true southern belle and have the art of eyelash batting and parasol twirling down to a science. While I have always been an avid reader, I didn't start writing professionally until high school. I was the high school correspondent for my local newspaper and had my own column back then. I haven't stopped writing since.

Finally, the fruits of my labor have paid off and my first book entitled "Miss Taken" will release from Whispers Publishing on March 13th.

When I'm not reading or writing, I'm spending time with my family who is extremely active. I share my home with my romance inspiring hubby and my 3 children. You can usually find me baking up sweet treats in the kitchen. Although, my hubby does most of the actual cooking.. Lucky me!

What inspires you to write? Do you find that your muse takes over when writing?

This may sound strange, but I usually get all my ideas for stories while in the bath tub or the shower. No joke! I came up with "Miss Taken" during a particularly delightful shower.

My muse can be a dream come true. She seems to like the steam from the shower, as I said, and she whispers to me while I'm sleeping too. I keep a notebook by the bedside just to jot down notes from my muse.

I'm totally a "pantser" when it comes to writing. As in, I write by the seat of my pants. I have a general idea of where the story is going but I'm never quite sure how I'm going to get there. So, I definitely think that my muse takes over when writing.

Tell us a bit about your story Saucy Celt? I absolutely loved Cian! I think you combined to of my favorites (Pizza and a hot guy!) What inspired to you to write it?

Thank you, Denisse. I'm glad you loved Cian. He was such a sweetheart to write about. The inspiration for "The Saucy Celt" came from the honeymoon trip that I took with my hubby to Ireland. When we met, I told him that I read and write romance and that I've always dreamed of visiting Ireland. So, he surprised me with a trip to the majestic green isle. It is truly a romance novel come to life.

We actually did get lost while trying to find a restaurant, late at night and ended up eating at a local pizza place. Although, to my husband's great relief, I didn't fall in love with the sexy Irish restaurant owner. :-)

Do you have any have any other works in progress that you want to share?

Well, I just completed my first paranormal romantic suspense entitled "Soul Searcher." I've submitted it to a publisher and entered it into a few competitions. We will see what happens.

In the meantime, I'm working on a historical time travel book set in the Regency era! I'm very excited about it. I can't stop picturing Colin Firth in my mind. He's so delish!

What would be your advice to aspiring writers out there?

My advice is to write what you love. Don't try to write "cookie cutter" type projects. You've got to feel the stories in your heart. A piece of you has to come out in the story.

To test this theory, I have my husband read all my work. No one knows me better than he does. When he read "The Saucy Celt", he told me that he got a tear in his eye over the ending. Awe! Good enough endorsement for me!

By the way, I just got a request for the full manuscript of "The Saucy Celt" so please keep your fingers crossed for me. Hope you enjoy the excerpt.

What are your favorite books at the moment?

Right now, I'm reading the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse books because I fell in love with the television show Tru Blood. So, I'm going back and reading the entire series of books. Also, it was helpful to read that genre to get me in the right frame of mind for completing my paranormal book.

What is your favorite word? Least favorite?

Just one word? That's tough...

Favorite Word: Concupiscence
Least Favorite Word: Putrification

Excerpt from "The Saucy Celt":

He was standing behind the counter spreading flour over the wooden work surface where he made his pizza dough. He spread the fresh dough out on the floured surface and began to knead it with his hands.

He heard her shoes clicking on the red tile floor behind him as she returned from the bathroom.

“Wanna have a look at my magic dough making skills?” he asked and raised his eyebrows at her.

She giggled and he thought it was the most magical sound he’d ever heard. She walked toward him carefully so as not to slip on the tile in her black high heeled shoes. He looked down at her sexy heels and followed her long, shapely bare legs up to the black skirt that she wore.

“What are you all dressed up for?” he asked as he worked the dough between his fingers.

She was standing beside him now watching him work.

“Oh, I was supposed to be somewhere tonight but I got lost,” she admitted and he could see a little blush creeping up on her cheeks.

“Ah, well I’m glad you happened upon my door step then,” he said and he saw her bite her lower lip with her teeth.

He felt incredibly attracted to this woman and he didn’t even know her name.

“So, what’s your name then?” he asked as he kneaded the dough a few more times.

“Sasha Adams,” she said and then extended her hand for a hand shake.

He took her hand and shook it gently. Then she looked down at her sticky dough covered hand and laughed.

“Uh oh Sasha Adams, looks like you are going to have to help me make the pizza then,” he said and motioned for her to step closer to him.

“Is that right?” she asked in a flirtatious voice that both surprised and pleased him.

“Yup, its old Irish folklore that one who touches the dough must then make the pizza,” he said with a very serious tone to his voice.

She shook her head at him and her lips pouted out ever so slightly.

Ah, God, she was a beauty.

“Well, if we are going to be work mates then, what’s your name?” she asked and he could feel her tension ease completely away as she grew more confident.

“Cian Mahone, ma’am, and this business has been in my family for three generations,” he replied proudly.

“Wow, that’s just amazing,” she said and seemed genuinely impressed.

He smiled at her and took her arm to pull her closer to him. He positioned her in front of him and facing the work surface. He gently reached down and placed her hands on the mound of dough.

His body was pressed against her back as he leaned his mouth closer to her ear and said, “You just press here with your fingers and then squeeze…”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Second Place Winner in The Pen & Muse Romantic Short Story Contest, Susan Blexrud

Susan Blexrud was the second place winner in the short story contest for the blog.
She was in the published author category!
Check out the winning excerpt below for Three-Toed Annie!
Please be sure to catch more of Susan's work at Dark Castle Lords.
Please be sure to watch the blog for upcoming review and interview
for The Necklace!

Three- Toed Annie


Chapter One

Grabbing my second cup of coffee in the teacher’s lounge, I curse under my breath as liquid splatters papers in my rush to get to class before the bell. Doesn’t look good for the teacher to be later than the students at Carolina Academy. No contest there. Jack and Ilene, notoriously arm-in-arm, saunter in just as the bell sounds. Jake executes his traditional pants hike before collapsing in his third row seat.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” I say, though the term is loosely applied. Wait, that’s unfair. These are terrific kids. A few spoiled brats in the pack, but all-in-all, bright and alert. It’s my job to keep them stimulated, and isn’t history the most stimulating subject of all?

“Where were we? Ah, yes, D-Day on Omaha Beach. Who can tell me how many Allied ships landed that day?” I scan the room for a show of hands and decide to call on Marie. The pop quiz I’d given yesterday revealed that Marie thinks Hitler was the 32nd President of the United States, so while FDR rolls over in his grave, I decide to give her a chance to redeem herself. “Marie?” She begins rifling through her text for the answer.

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Callahan, I know right where that answer is.” She continues to rifle. Luck, it would seem, is on her side because as her search ensues, the fire alarm sounds, and we’re instructed via intercom to file—calmly—out of the building. My class of eighth graders bolts, and I close the classroom door, only to turn and face cute Mr. Browder, the adorable Latin teacher I’ve had a humongous crush on for the past three months.

“Your class defines ‘calm’ the same as mine,” he remarks, nodding at the flurry of students elbowing each other out of the way as they race down the stairs. The boys love these frenzies, which provide an opportunity for anonymous groping and pinching. I’m pretty observant, however, and I make a mental note of the offenders.

Tongue-tied as usual in Mr. Browder’s presence, all I can do is nod back at his remark…and smile. I guess that provides enough of an opening.

“Say,” he begins, “I was wondering if you might like to go out sometime, like this Saturday?”
Did he say what I thought he said? My tongue gets caught somewhere behind my palate, and I swallow hard to dislodge it.

Rather than wait for my response, he continues. “I’m playing rugby at Martin Luther King Park at three. Maybe you’d like to watch some of the game, and then we can go from there?’ He takes my elbow, and we begin the treacherous walk down the stairs. Earth to Annie—this IS a fire drill.

“Um, sure,” I say and then add, “but I’m going to Mass at five. I’ve been a sloth about attending church. Haven’t been for ages, and I promised my mom I’d go on Saturday.”
“Where would that be?”

“The Basilica downtown,” I say, “so we’d be close.” I manage to get down the stairs without catching my cuffed slacks in my loafers, miracle of miracles. If there’s ever a time I need to be steady, this is it.

“You’re a kneeler, eh?” He doesn’t exactly recoil, but I detect a whoosh of air between us.
“Anything wrong with that?”

He laughs. “Absolutely not, if you buy the whole ‘deadly sins’ thing. My entire family’s Catholic. I never heard the end of it from my mom when I stopped going to church. She still winces about it.”

“Mothers. Mine still treats me like I’m five.”

We’re outside now, rubbing our arms and testing the temperature of the air with our breaths. November has already provided a dusting of snow in Asheville, and promises of a White Christmas are just around the corner.

The Pen & Muse Romantic Short Story Contest Winner, Bobbi Kilbarger!

Congratulations to Bobbi Kilbarger! She is the winner of the The Pen & Muse Blog Romantic Short Story Contest for the Unpublished Author Category.
Learn more about Bobbi and get to read an excerpt of her winning
short story, On Ocassion!

Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!

I'm originally from a small town of about 600 people called Thompsonville, but I currently live in Carbondale, IL with my husband and two year old son.

Let's see, about myself... I'm a happily married, stay-at-home Mom who loves writing (duh!). I play video games regularly, especially Final Fantasy XI, and I’m addicted to reading publishing industry blogs and celebrity gossip websites.

Speaking of blogs, I’m currently keeping a blog chronicling my journey into writing my first book. It’s mostly full of mistakes I’ve made and how I’m learning from them as I continue to study the industry, but I enjoy writing it. The blog can be found at if anyone’s interested. (Yeah, shameless plug, but how often does an unpublished writer get interviewed, lol!)

What inspires you to write? How long have you been writing?

I joke that my Writing Gremlin inspires me to write. He's a little, green gremlin with a monocle and British accent who decided that I should be the vessel to write the stories he comes up with. He just appeared one day with an idea for a story and hounded me at all hours of the day and night until I agreed to team up with him to write it, as well as any other stories that tickle his fancy.

I'd say that I've been writing in one way or another since first or second grade and even have a small book of poetry that I wrote at around that age. I have a bunch of short stories that I wrote in grade school and junior high as well as journals full of poetry written in high school, all of which will hopefully never see the light of day.

Tell us a bit about your story On Occasion. What inspired to you to write it? Did you have a similar experience?

While I am married to my best friend, our story is nothing like Megan and Joseph's. I wish that I could've had something like this happen to me at 19, how romantic would that have been? My life was seriously lacking in the romance department until I was well into college though, never even had a date before then!

On Occasion… is the story of what happens when you realize that you’re in love with your best friend. Actually, it’s about what happens when you accidentally let that friend know your feelings and the awkwardness that occurs afterward.

I’m not really sure what inspired this story. Part of me says that the characters appeared through a medicine-induced haze at the beginning of the year. You see, I had been sick with sinus and ear infections for about a month and on all kinds of antihistamines the entire time. Well, due to having an enormous case of medicine-head, I was unable to work on my novel. There were just too many story lines to keep straight, but I was desperate to write something, anything. Well, one day I woke up after having the cutest dream and couldn’t get the characters from it to leave me alone. All I wanted to do was curl up in a blanket and mope because I couldn’t write my novel, but lucky for me, Megan was very insistent that her story be told. I finally said, “Fine!” and sat down and typed up the dream.

The week after writing up the story, I checked my favorite blogs and saw the post announcing this contest and thought, “Hmmm… I could finish Megan and Joseph's story and submit it. It’d be really good experience for me, learning how to ‘let go’ of something I’ve written and let others judge it… You know what? I’ll do it!” I also figured that if I was lucky enough to place in the contest, it would be something to add to query letters once I finish my novel and start sending it out to agents. Sending off the completed story was so nerve-wracking though, I’d never entered any type of writing contest before this one. I had the story ready for three days before I actually emailed it, I think. My husband almost had to take the laptop from me and send it off because I was so nervous. "I'll just read through it one more time..."

So, yeah… that’s pretty much the story of how On Occasion… came to be; from foggy medicine-head dreams to anxiety-filled submission. I’d tell you how it felt to open the email saying that I won, but I’m still a little bit numb about that at the moment. Once my brain starts working again and I stop re-checking my email to make sure that I didn’t imagine the whole thing, I’ll let you know, lol.

Do you have any have any other works in progress that you want to share?

My main WIP is a paranormal romance about a girl who is able to channel the Greek gods and goddesses, currently called Instinct. It’s a really fun story about how police cadet, Casey Parker deals with this new “gift” while trying to lead a normal life. And of course it couldn’t be a paranormal romance without a love interest for her… or two…

I also have a folder on my laptop full of outlined stories that I would love to have time to write. They range from middle school stories, through adult romance, all the way to science fiction. It’ll probably be a while before I can move on to these ideas though as Instinct is currently outlined to be the first in a four-part series.

What would be your advice to aspiring writers out there?

Don’t let anyone keep you from your dream of writing. I let people convince me that writing wasn’t the best future for me and quit while I was in college and now I find myself wondering where I'd be in my writing if I hadn't quit. So, never give up!

Also, research the industry. There are so many amazing blogs written by agents and editors as well as ones by published authors. I currently have 52 blogs on my Google Reader that I follow for industry news and tips. Read everything you can, study it as if you were going to be tested on it later (and you will, once you start submitting your work). Don't just read everything you can, really absorb it and try to apply it to your situation. People complete special training programs to work in other industries, why should writing be any different?

What are your favorite books at the moment?

Oooh, let’s see here… to be honest, while I absolutely love reading, between chasing down an over-active toddler and writing, I really haven't had much time to read in the past few months. The most recent book that I've read and really enjoyed was Eternal Seduction by Jennifer Turner. I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in this series, Eternal Hearts, that will be officially released in May.

I'm also dying to get my hands on a copy of The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan later this month, unless I can get my hands on an ARC in one of the many contests being held to celebrate it's release. It just sounds amazing!

What is your favorite word? Least favorite?

Well, at the moment my favorite word is, “congratulations” lol. Nothing better than hearing that after a long day.

I’d probably have to say that my least favorite word is “regret”. It’s something that I try to live my life without and it’s always heartbreaking to hear people talk about the things that they regret in their lives.

Thanks again Denisse for holding this contest and for believing in my short story enough to award it the grand prize for unpublished authors. Also, congratulations to the other winners! I hope I didn't prattle on too much on my answers. It seems that I have the "gift of gab" when it comes to typing, lol!

Excerpt :

I hate Christmas. Not only do I never get anything that I actually want, but this year I had to drive four hours in a blizzard to get home. Well, not home really- not this year at least.
Typically, right now I’d be sitting in the living room at my parents’ house watching football with Dad while Mom worked on our Christmas Eve dinner. Then Christmas morning we’d exchange gifts and I’d end up with either a savings bond or a roadside emergency kit for my truck. Exactly what every girl wants, right?

None of that this year though. This year I’m staying with the Reed’s, family friends so close you’d think Sam, Joseph, and Peggy were my cousins rather than my best friends. Well, Peggy is like a little sister to me, but she’s only eight.

Right now my parents are probably making their way to their cabin for the night. My mother won a trip for two on a holiday cruise in the Caribbean as part of some radio contest. I think I spent a week straight on the phone convincing them to go; that I would be fine without them for one holiday.

So here I am, spending Christmas with my second family. I’ve really missed them this past year while I was away at college, Joseph especially. I didn’t even realize that my feelings had changed for him until I woke up around 3 a.m. my first night here. That’s when the dreams started…
The dreams are innocent enough though, just repeats of the previous day as it would have played out if we were dating. Our epic snow ball fight ending with our snuggling by the fireplace in the family room… Not avoiding the mistletoe in the front hall, but taking advantage of the holiday tradition every chance we can…

These dreams don’t mean anything though, right? I’m not doomed to pine after my best friend for the rest of our lives, am I?

If you'd like to learn more about Bobbi, check out her blog : Willow's Inner Thoughts

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Pen Review & Interview with Francesca Hawley

Welcome to the Sunday Morning Edition of The Pen & Muse Review and Interview. I had the pleasure of reading Protect and Defend by Francesca Hawley. I also got to sit down with the author herself. For me, it was a wonderful experience. So please check out Protect and Defend!

Protect and Defend by Francesca Hawley
Paranormal/Romantic Suspense
Ellora's Cave

The story of Mikaela and Diarmid is a story surrounded by suspense, action, fantasy, and love. Hawley definitely did not disappoint when she wrote Protect and Defend. I really enjoyed reading the story of these two people who come together in the most unusal of places. Mikaela being a well rounded woman and a writer who happens to need research for her next novel. Diarmid who is a shapeshifter who has his own past and baggage. Both come together beautifully. Every scene even those erotic had a tenderness to them. From the plot to the dialouge, Hawley paints the fate of Mikaela and Diarmid to well deserved ending. Want to find out what happens next? Go out and purchase this book! I was glad that I did!


Mikaela Laughlin discovers a whole new world, and an entirely new species, when she tours the crime lab to meet Lieutenant Diarmid Redwolf while researching her next book. She's lusted after "Delicious Diarmid" from afar for a long time, but meeting him sets her body on fire. It doesn't take long for Mikaela to discover there's more to him than meets the eye. Diarmid is far more delicious up close than she ever dreamed.

Diarmid has bad guys to catch, but one look at the voluptuous writer has him wanting to catch her instead. His shapeshifter blood recognizes his True Mate and he wants her naked body arching beneath his. Now. But with a cold-blooded serial killer on the loose, Diarmid has one shot at his future and he will not fail. Because this time, the killer wants Mikaela.


Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!

My name is Francesca Hawley and I’m a 40-something Iowa girl. In addition to writing erotic romance, I work as a librarian in a medium sized library in central Iowa.

My parents were both readers and they instilled in me a love of books and reading at a very young age. Both of them read to me when I was little. As I grew older, we still discussed books. I remember fondly reading Watership Down by Richard Adams aloud with my mother. We shared the book when I was around twelve years old and it was a wonderful bonding experience.
The early love of books set me on the path to become a librarian, which is a job I really love. It’s exciting to participate in the community by providing programs and recommending books to readers.

Not only was I a reader when I was young, but a writer too. In high school, I often found an empty classroom and sat with my notebook writing romances during my lunch hour. Of course, in retrospect those weren’t very good romances because they were full of purple prose, but it was a start.

Fan fiction was another way I learned the ropes as a writer. It taught me how to construct stories and collaborate. I made a lot of wonderful friends who shared my passion for Anne McCaffrey’s Pern™.

What inspires you to write? Do you find that your muse takes over when writing?

I have to write. I always have stories running in the back of my mind and I was one of those kids who got into trouble for “daydreaming” in class. There have been times when I didn’t write my stories down, but I still fantasized an elaborate story. I found myself watching movies or television and rewriting a story to suit me or deciding what happened when an episode or film was over. That’s how I got into fan fiction. I was such a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern™ that I started imagining myself as a Dragonrider. Once I discovered fandom and online role-playing, I had a blast.

I was a big reader throughout the years but I quit reading romance for a long time. I was in grad school taking a break from writing a paper for a library class when I stumbled across Ellora’s Cave which was then a young company. I downloaded my first book. From then on, I devoured every book I could afford – I was a poor grad student after all. Reading took my back to my love of writing romances. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at erotic romances. It was very freeing.

I wrote a short story Alpha v Alpha which was published in a short story anthology called Paranaughty by Draumr Publishing. After that it was full steam ahead and I started a novel. My dream publisher was Ellora’s Cave and my dream came true. This year my first novel, Protect and Defend, was released by EC on January 7, 2009.

As to my writing process, I’m a pantser which means I write by the seat of my pants. I usually have a beginning, a point or two along the way, and an ending in the form of “they lived happily ever after” and away I go. I’ve been trying to be a little less spontaneous, but my Muse (who is a hot guy, BTW) can and often does take over when I write.

What happens most of the time is that one of my characters will hijack a story. The culprit is usually the hero. Invariably, he messes up any plans I may have made. For example, I started out with a particular hero in a time travel medieval romance. I thought the story was going fine until the man I’d designated as the “villain” arrived on the scene. My “evil” medieval Baron proceeded to completely take over. He informed me I had him all wrong. He wasn’t bad, just misunderstood. I thought, “Yeah, right. You’re a villain.” He convinced me and I started over with Eaduin as my hero and his story is currently awaiting review by an editor. I have my fingers crossed she’ll like it.

Tell us about your works.

My recent release is called Protect and Defend. When people ask for the “short” version of what it is I’ve described it as “CSI meets shapeshifters.” My hero Diarmid Redwolf is a police lieutenant who works as a crime scene investigator and he happens to shift into a wolf from time to time. He meets my heroine, Mikaela Laughlin, when she visits the lab for a tour. He wants her at first sight and it doesn’t take long for her scent to assure him that she’s his True Mate too.
The course of true love never did run smooth. A serial killer from Diar’s past is out to end the relationship by ending Mikaela’s life. Diarmid has to explain shapeshifters to his True Mate and protect her from a psychopath, while they work to establish a new relationship. Life is full of challenges.

Who is your favorite character? How long did it take to write?

My favorite characters are usually my heroes. My excuse is that I have to fall in love with them in order for my reader to fall in love too. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. ☺

When I wrote Protect and Defend, I couldn’t think of any character but Diarmid (pronounced dare-mid). Diar was a modern day knight in shining armor and I’m a total sucker for those kinds of guys. Chivalry, protectiveness, honesty… Sigh. Each hero I write embodies those characteristics in his own unique fashion. Intense sexuality is also part of the make-up of my heroes. They are alpha males and when they want their woman/mate, they want her now. Of course, those same characteristics provide the fatal flaw needed to keep the hero from being perfect and perfectly boring. Stubbornness, bluntness, and rigidity are the dark side of their noble traits.

It took me about a year and a half to complete Protect and Defend. It was actually the first novel manuscript I’d completed. I think that’s why it took me so long. I was thrilled to final in a couple of RWA contests with it and I pitched it to Raelene Gorlinsky at the RWA National Conference in 2007. I sent it in and some months later, my editor offered the contract. It’s been a roller-coaster ride.

I wrote my second manuscript, a medieval paranormal erotic romance, Seeking Truth in just about a year. I hope completing my work in a shorter amount of time is a trend.
What do you want to accomplish this year?

I want to complete a new novel set in my shapeshifter world. I also have a Regency set historical I’d like to finish this year. I have a lot of ideas for stories, which is a blessing. Sometimes though, I’d like to tell my characters to quit talking to me all at the same time. I don’t want them to shut up completely, just pace themselves.

Do you have any have any other works in progress that you want to share?

My latest work in progress is tentatively titled Happy Howlidays. Yup, it takes place in my shapeshifter universe but it involves a completely different cast of characters from Protect and Defend. This time there are no dead bodies or blood. Well, there's some figurative blood because of family dynamics during the holidays, but that's it.

My hero, Joe Blackwolf, is a lead singer/lead guitarist in a rock band. The story opens on his fiftieth birthday where he's wondering what he's got to show for his life. Years of touring, but no home and no pups. Complications arise when he meets his True Mate, Mandy Goldwolf. He thinks she has a mate and he discovers she is the only daughter of two True Mated musicians in his new band, The Pack. Even worse in Joe's eyes, Mandy is only 35.

Mandy isn't mated, but she told her mother she was in order to get some breathing room on the ever present topic of "when am I going to get some grandpups?" Well, Mandy has some 'splaining to do because she doesn't tell Joe the truth right away. Instead, they do the wild thing in an empty office between sets. Now she has to straighten out the mess she created by lying to her mother and not telling Joe the truth before he found out in a very public way. On top of all that, Mandy has to convince the love of her life that he isn't too old for her. And all before Christmas.

What would be your advice to aspiring writers out there?

Never give up. Never ever give up. If you really want to be a published author you have to keep going. If you get rejections, paper your wall with them. They’re a badge of honor. No matter how bad it gets or how bad it feels – tomorrow may be the day you get the offer. Believe in yourself and in your talent as a writer, because if you don’t believe no one else will either. I know this sounds like a cliché fest, but it really is the truth. Sherrilyn Kenyon, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts are where they are because they persisted. Never forget that.

I’d also encourage writers to find a critique partner or critique group you value. CPs are worth their weight in gold. They will tell you the truth when your work is crap and when it’s good. They’ll help you brainstorm and hold your hand. They’ll celebrate with you when you win and commiserate when you lose. They are an invaluable resource. Feed them chocolate often.

Learn how the business works and remember it is a business. No one will give you anything, you have to earn it. Listen to what published authors say, but also research on your own because you need information from more than one resource in order to be fully informed.

Let me say that one again - never ever forget that this is a business. Think like the entrepreneur that you are. Save your receipts so you can write off expenses on your taxes. Things like attending conferences, paying for organization memberships, the cost of classes and books are all a part of the cost of doing business. Buy a computer you use for your writing? It’s an expense. To be sure what qualifies, talk to your tax preparer for information. Start now. This year.

If you are offered an contract but you’re not represented by an agent, good for you. If you’re unable to secure an agent to handle negotiations, all is not lost. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask a literary lawyer to vet the contract for you. Not your cousin, Fred the all purpose local attorney, but a lawyer with a specialty in contracts and most specifically LITERARY contracts. They’re out there. They don’t come cheap, but they are worth the money.
Finally, start promoting YOU as a brand before you’re published. Buy an internet domain name and get a Web site going. If you have the time and energy, start a blog. Make contacts. Network. It helps…a lot.

What are your favorite books at the moment?

No Holds Barred by Paris Brandon. It just came out from Ellora’s Cave on Friday, February 13. Paris is my crit partner and so I had the opportunity to read this as a work in progress. It’s hot and deeply emotional and basically just a great read.

Poison Ivy by Misty Simon. Actually I’d recommend any of the Ivy series of cozy mysteries Misty writes. The stories are very funny and I haven’t figured out the mysteries during the middle of the book – which is definitely a big deal to me when I read a mystery. Misty was my first crit partner, and if it weren’t for her I doubt Protect and Defend would have ever seen the light of day. I learned a lot about story and pacing from Misty.

I also enjoy books by Christine Feehan, Robin Schone, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Lora Leigh, Robin D. Owens, and Cheyenne McCray. There are so many favorite authors I can count them all.

What is your favorite word? Least favorite?

Ah, shades of The Actors Studio. I love this part. Okay…
Favorite word - Fuck. Hands down. It’s such a versatile word. It can be a noun, verb or an adjective, depending on how you use it. You can insult people with it. You can have fun with it. Aaaand it’s one of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on television. That alone makes it a valuable word.

Least favorite word – orientated. I grew up using the word oriented. For example, “Fred looked at the map and oriented himself along a north/south axis.” I know orientated is a word. I know because I looked it up in the dictionary when I thought it wasn’t a word. However, whenever orientated is used in a book I stumble over it and start to grumble about its presence. It completely throws me out of a story.